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On adapting Cloud Atlas into a film
November 24, 2012 7:28 AM   Subscribe


 
Objectively speaking, the word "unfilmable" should not be in quotes
posted by crayz at 7:33 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's an "interesting" interview with Mitchell, where he discusses some of his other books and how he writes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]




Fun, light read although it would have been more interesting if he had had a falling out with the filmmakers, instead of being such a good sport about the whole thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:44 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


earlier New Yorker piece on how Cloud Atlas the movie was created by the Wachowskis (actual NYer review is here )
posted by Bwithh at 7:45 AM on November 24, 2012


Objectively speaking, the word "unfilmable" should not be in quotes

The book was filmed. It's not an unfilmable book, it's an "unfilmable" book.
posted by 3FLryan at 7:49 AM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


it would have been more interesting if he had had a falling out with the filmmakers

A Shining-level rupture, resulting in a rival Cloud Atlas miniseries starring the guy from Wings, would be nice.
posted by Beardman at 7:50 AM on November 24, 2012 [7 favorites]




SO... They started with a neat twist on the crime drama, followed by a High concept SF film that punched above it's weight... So I guess the question is will Rian Jihnson start making weird bloated messes now?
posted by Artw at 8:10 AM on November 24, 2012


I'm so annoyed that my nearby UA isn't showing this film. All this talk makes me want to see it.
posted by polymodus at 8:12 AM on November 24, 2012


There's much to say about this film. There's something very messy about the Wachowski's insistence that humanity is beyond gender, beyond race, beyond tribal affiliation, which I suspect is a particularly personal subject for Lana Wachowski, but unfortunately plays out as white people in Spock makeup playing Koreans, which is ... problematic. And the Wachowskis have tried to tackle the British Isles before, in V for Vendetta, and it seemed like something made by people who had a read a tourist's guide to England but never actually visited. And so, for a film about the problems of tribalism, we have a movie that represents Scottish and Irish people as thugs. It's like the Celtic people as represented by Mike Myers' Saturday Night Live sketches.

That being said, this confirms a longstanding suspicion I have had that if Keith David is in a film, you should see it, because it is likely to be bugshit crazy.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:15 AM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The book was filmed.

A film named "Cloud Atlas" was made.
posted by crayz at 8:21 AM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm so annoyed that my nearby UA isn't showing this film. All this talk makes me want to see it.

I had the same problem, none of the chain theaters were showing the movie at all, not its opening weekend and not even now. It was a bizarre roll out, which is definitely one of the reasons the film is, so far, a commercial failure.

but unfortunately plays out as white people in Spock makeup playing Koreans, which is ... problematic.

See this didn't bug on that level, as it's just clumsy at times, like Hugo Weaving as a female nurse. But that was comedic arc, so it sort of works. But it does get distracting at various other points. It was an understandable step to give the film some obvious continuity to a general audience, but it's not seamless.

However, Hugh Grant as a sleazy businessman and a blood thirsty cannibal in one film?! Brilliance!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:23 AM on November 24, 2012


The SF sections (both Sci/Fi and San Francsisco) had smart things to say about genre, were well acted, and were gorgeous examples of how to make something seem new over shopworn premises. Esp. the neo-Seoul section with it's memories of every SF film about cities, from Metropolis on down. Because it seems to have failed at the Box Office, and because some of it, you could see the difference b/w an 80 million dollar movie and a 120 million dollar movie, I wonder if something like this would ever be tried again.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:24 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really want to see the movie again. I know I'm in the vast minority (but in good company, too, with Film Crit Hulk), but I thought it was a messy, ambitious, but ultimately enjoyable experience that actually improved on many of the book's flaws. Some sections were clumsy or bore little resemblance to the source material (Sloosha's Crossin') but I found them to be more satisfying as narratives despite my reservations (the inserted romance). This was particularly true for the Cavendish section, which was transformed from my least favorite aspect of the experience to a brilliant comedy.

That's not to say it wasn't flawed. Frobisher had a charm lobotomy, the yellowface/whiteface was a bad idea poorly executed, and the last shot of the movie was one of the narmiest I've ever seen. But I still liked it, somehow.

I should say, of course, that my feelings about the book were pretty mixed, too. I also think it was messy and ambitious and while I liked sections I thought some were pretty bad. Sonmi, especially. Odd, though, that the book and movie succeeded for me--and failed--in completely different ways.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:36 AM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's what I'm saying--we need more work that's messy and ambitious, and fails in ways that seem fascinating.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:41 AM on November 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


I went to the movie with my partner. The one who had not read the book understood it just as easily as did the one who had read the book. Both of us found the message hammered home a little too obviously, most notably in Somni's pronouncements.

As great as I thought it was, I was surprised Ebert wanted to go back and see it again. Of course, I hardly ever read a book or see a movie or an art exhibition more than once.

The roll-out of the movie was half-baked - well, quarter-baked. Little advertising, few trailers, and it showed at fewer screens than any movie I can recall with a similar budget and three successful directors (and based on an audacious novel, and stuffed full of delicious visuals). I wonder why the studios did everything but stab the movie in the back?

By the way, I liked this David Mitchell quote: ...where there are people, an urge to help and build exists as well as a tendency to justify slashing and burning. Authors, even in dystopian fiction, often tend to take a remarkably unjaundiced view of human nature, I think.
posted by kozad at 8:44 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought the film was great. Better than the book. I found the book a tedious read, particularly the 1970s journalist story and the 2000s farce. And because the structure of the book was so rigidly nested I had to slog through the boring stories to get to the interesting stuff. And then I forgot a bunch of details so I could never quite connect the common themes and characters between the story.

But film, so much easier to splice in multiple stories. The quick cuts between narratives, the direct juxtaposition of a theme or character archetype across the centuries, it worked very well for me. I also appreciated the change in tone; the goofy older man's farce story stops being annoying and becomes welcome levity from the heavy sci-fi, etc. Mitchell seems to have liked the chop job too, from what he's said, so win-win all around. It does make me wonder why he didn't just intersperse the stories chapter by chapter. Each of them is written in a different narrative form too, maybe he couldn't make it work.

I also respect the Wachowskis for making a completely uncompromising film. After the relative failures of The Matrix sequels and Speed Racer you could imagine them going somewhere safer. They didn't, and I applaud that. (Also Speed Racer was much better than people said and you should watch it again.)
posted by Nelson at 9:00 AM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Speed Racer is vital to us understanding the emergence of a new digital way of telling stories, and was one of the first peices of this new hyper baroque aesthetic.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:13 AM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The book is one of my favorites and I loved the movie. It's not perfect of course. It made me go back and re-read the book and, in a way, deepened my reading of it.
posted by papercake at 9:15 AM on November 24, 2012


For anyone even semi-interested in this film ( I loved it) I recommend the Nerdist podcast interview with all 3 directors.
posted by sendai sleep master at 9:21 AM on November 24, 2012


Surely you mean "hyper baroque aesthetique"?
posted by sneebler at 9:23 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the book (it is currently sitting on my procrastination bookshelf), but I saw the movie twice. The first time I felt like I was struggling to keep up, but the second time was much easier. I loved it both times, though. It's probably the first time I've sat through a three hour movie and immediately wanted to watch it again.

I loved that the themes of the film serve as a counterpoint to the sort of Randian-bootstraps nonsense that is so common everywhere. Every central character in the film is able to accomplish his goals only because of the community of people that surrounds him.

It's a surprisingly difficult movie for the simple argument it makes, but I honestly really appreciated that. To me, there's nothing better than a film that you can mull over for days after you leave the theater.

I also liked Speed Racer
posted by a dangerous ruin at 9:27 AM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


white people in Spock makeup playing Koreans, which is ... problematic.

People always talk about that part of it, but they never talk about the Korean people made up as whites, or the black people made up as whites or Koreans, etc. etc.

As a white person I am mortally offended! Not.
posted by fungible at 9:42 AM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


While I think the makeup of white actors to appear Asian is problematic and is deserving of discussion there was a previous Cloud Atlas where the majority of the post/discussion tackled this subject. Perhaps we could try and keep this thread centered in a discussion of writing/film and overall discussion of the film itself?
posted by sendai sleep master at 9:49 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


That would be this thread.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:53 AM on November 24, 2012


For those interested, here is a link to the Berdist podcast. Lana spends a large and interesting chunk if it discussing the pros and cons if trying to make artistically fulfilling movies in today's cultural climate.
posted by sendai sleep master at 9:54 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saw the movie and read the book. Book first, about a year ago.

I think Cloud Atlas is in the same camp as The English Patient -- a book written in such a distinct and rich way that any film is going to fall short of capturing it all, simply because film can't capture some of the richness that the written word can convey. That's not the fault of the filmmaker, though - that's the fault of film not being written word. It'd be like making apple tart out of blueberries and complaining that the blueberries didn't quite capture enough apple-ness. Some books/stories/etc. can be translated a lot easier - but some books are so rich and vivid, or are written in such a unique voice, that you ain't gonna get it all.

The best a filmmaker can do in this case is make the best film possible - use the script as a springboard, and figure out what what is being expressed in the writing that you can't express via film, and then figure out what film techniques you can use to express that. The written word can do things that film can't -- but film can also do things that the written word can't. You may not end up with as literal an adaptation - but a literal adaptation was impossible anyway, so going with the spirit rather than the letter is all you can do.

(Oh, I liked both film and book, by the way.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on November 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well said, EC.

I started the book, but got bored with the pace of the first story and put off by revisiting slavery. The movie sparked my interest in the book again (especially the pidgin English of the far future), so I'm curious to see how my view of the book will be affected now. I suspect it'll be richer, with no strong preference for either, instead viewing both works as different sides of a larger theme and story.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:13 AM on November 24, 2012


a book written in such a distinct and rich way that any film is going to fall short of capturing it all

I'd love it if you could talk about what distinct and rich parts of the book didn't make it into the film. I know what you mean in general, plenty of films are inferior to the books they are based on. But in the case of Cloud Atlas I think the film is really a lot better than the book in so many ways.
posted by Nelson at 10:16 AM on November 24, 2012


I'd love it if you could talk about what distinct and rich parts of the book didn't make it into the film.

Well, "richness" was more a nod towards English Patient; but for Cloud Atlas, the matryoshka-doll structure would have been hell to film. It was something that initially bugged me about the book, in fact - having to save my place six different times so that when he finally picked up the thread of one of the stories again, I could flip back and refresh my memory and remember "oh, yeah, that's what was happening when we dropped this story". I could see at the end how it all hung together, though, and understood the why of that particular structural choice.

But in film you can't stop the film in the theater and have the projectionist skip back to an earlier scene. So they abandoned that structure and instead went for "let's fragment everything more and make a mosaic sort of thing out of it" and jumped around even more. You lost the conceit of "each of these stories is connected to each other in-story as well" thing (in each story in the book, they stop in the middle and the next story starts with the main character talking about only having seen half a journal, half a manuscript, half a movie, or whatever), but jumping around six stories all happening at the same time simultaneously was another way of emphasizing the "everything is connected" subtext.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So much is lost in the film. The film was like a cliff notes of the book, the basic plot and characters. In the book you can see reoccurring tropes that are impossible to see in the movie for lack of time to develop details. The book uses "6" throughout so many times and so ways it's pretty fascinating once you catch on to it. Other stuff like that, lots of depth and nuance in the book the film glosses over.
posted by stbalbach at 10:30 AM on November 24, 2012


I started the book, but got bored with the pace of the first story and put off by revisiting slavery.

Pacing is the biggest problem in Cloud Atlas (the novel) overall. There's not one section that I would call well-paced; even the pulpy sections are, at times interminable. The movie's pace is so much beter, and it's really a triumph of the editing that they were able to create a sense of narrative arc and tension not only out of six stories but out of six stories that were often lacking in tension and development until the end of the respective sections.

In the book you can see reoccurring tropes that are impossible to see in the movie for lack of time to develop details. The book uses "6" throughout so many times and so ways it's pretty fascinating once you catch on to it.

Meh. The reuse of these motifs was nifty, but I don't think they were necessary and I don't think much is lost in their lack.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:47 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I found the discussion a bit nebulous....
posted by gallus at 11:14 AM on November 24, 2012


In retrospect, the filmmakers who could make such a miraculous live action adaptation of Speed Racer would seem the natural choice for "unfilmable" subjects.
posted by fairmettle at 11:17 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was in the Ebert camp. Absolutely enthralled by the movie's scope and ambition. And then, on top of that scope and ambition, the amount of sheer heart, passion, and compassion it had. It got hallmarky at times, but I generally didn't mind because I was so dazzled by the film and the emotions were so raw and sincere.

One thing I can't figure out -- what's the connection between 1973 and 2012? All of the episodes have a direct, historical connection except (as far as I can tell) this one.
posted by treepour at 11:18 AM on November 24, 2012


Cavendish receives a manuscript written by Javier (one of the nice details added by the moviemakers; in the book, it's written by someone else) that's a mystery adaptation of Luisa Rey's story.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:23 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


how his "unfilmable" book, Cloud Atlas, was adapted into a movie.

Poorly, from what I've heard.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2012


It doesn't come out in the UK until late February, what a shame. I'll definitely be going: it looks flawed but still worth seeing.

At the very least, the buzz about the film got me to finally finish reading the book a few months ago. In the end I loved it, but like Brandon Blatcher, on my first attempt I couldn't make it through the first story. I'm glad I gave it another chance.
posted by Gordafarin at 12:02 PM on November 24, 2012


I unabashedly, un-ironically enjoyed the movie from beginning to end. I enjoyed knowing I will have to see it again to see all the connective threads, and I felt like the movie successfully proved that we are all the same in our hearts without feeding it to me. (Contrast with being spoon-fed emotion in Flight. A Lifetime movie with good acting and a plane crash.) I'm glad Cloud Atlas commanded my complete attention for three hours, and I felt rewarded for using my brain, a feeling that is lacking in modern cinema.
posted by CarlRossi at 12:14 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The book was filmed.

A film named "Cloud Atlas" was made.


Well, if you want to get technical about it, I suppose it would be even easier to film a book.
posted by dubold at 12:16 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I went into the film thinking expecting it to be messy and beautiful, and I thought it delivered well. The one thing I really missed from the book was the uncertainty about how much of each account was true from the perspective of the next one. The first was a journal (perhaps the closest to the truth), the second letters (selective accounts), the third a script (fictionalized), the fourth a film (possibly actual fiction), and the fifth a legend. It's addressed directly in the book:

The workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave. Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction—in short, belief—grows ever “truer.” The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent.
posted by Nothing at 12:21 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was also a bit sad at the handling of the Frobisher story - my favorite from the book.
posted by Nothing at 12:23 PM on November 24, 2012


I went to see it on a huge screen here in Seattle the weekend it came out. I'm glad I did. It was confusing, complicated, and a beautiful disaster. I didn't expect them to make sense of the book (which I haven't read); I knew going in that the Wachowskis and Twyker were adapting a thoroughly unfilmable book, so I kinda gave them some slack to be confusing.

It was surpririsingly less confusing than I expected it to be. Montaging the different stories together definitely worked; it took the distinctly narrative device of taking a book, opening it to the middle, and sticking another book inside, and turned it into something distinctly filmic. I paid a lot of attention to this aspect of the movie in part because I'm working on a graphic novel that does a similar multiple-related-narratives thing in a distinctly comic-book way; watching this gave me a valuable sense of the special kind of confusion inherent to a multifaceted work like that.

The speech at the end felt kind of tacked on and cringe-inducing in the same way the speeches in the second Matrix movie did; the friend I saw it with, who'd read the book, tells me that was unique to the movie. Which makes sense as it kinda tied in with the reincarnation theme.

Some stuff really just never cohered for me - I had no idea what was going on with the sick guy in the ship with the doctor trying to kill him, for instance; if there was a scene that explained the doctor's motivation, I missed it - but some moments, like when I realized the barbarians-and-hightech sequence that opened the film was the last, chronologically, were delightful. It was a big puzzle to put together, and if a friend wanted to go see it, I'd gladly see it again to try and pick up the pieces I missed on the first viewing.

Overall I thought it was fabulous, and flawed. But the flaws didn't get in the way of enjoying the thing. Because oh my god it was a fucking gorgeous film and a damn fine piece of film-making. Very different from Twyker's personal take on multiple narratives in a film, too!
posted by egypturnash at 12:28 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had no idea what was going on with the sick guy in the ship with the doctor trying to kill him, for instance; if there was a scene that explained the doctor's motivation, I missed it

The doctor knew the guy's wooden chest was full of gold, so he was killing him for it and any other trinkets he could get from the guy, hence the buttons on the coat, removing his wedding ring, etc. The motivation was explained in the climatic fight scene.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:56 PM on November 24, 2012


I have to say, Superstorm Sandy didn't do its opening weekend any favors-- we didn't see it until a couple of weeks later, because of storm prep and then later cleanup. I'll admit that some of the makeup was clumsy (the advantage here is to the book, because you can allude to characters repeating but never have to deal with the realities of reusing actual people) but some of it was just fantastic. The film was better than I thought, and I liked that they captured some of the vocal patterns so intrinsic to each setting. Still a better book than a movie, but I would encourage both for the curious.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:11 PM on November 24, 2012


I didn't read the book and had no problem following the movie (which I liked a lot). My one complaint was that the contemporary story-line about the publisher seemed so light-weight compared the all the other ones and didn't really fit in the tone of the rest of the movie very well. I'd really like to see it again but there are so many other movies to see right now.
posted by octothorpe at 1:30 PM on November 24, 2012


Ack. I had already decided I was going to see this tomorrow, and all this talk of the poor roll-out and take got me worried and, sure enough, it's been pulled from the nearby theater. At least I can catch it not too far away before it's gone completely. It's only the 5th week! Seems like a fine line these days between avoiding opening crowds and missing films altogether.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:57 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the trailer looked pretty interesting, so I actually read the book and enjoyed it. And actually the book itself seemed pretty straightforward to me, with the exception that each of the stories wasn't really all that tightly connected to the others. I think Mitchel had said that he only included the "multiple lives" thing as a way to tie the stories together. In fact, in the book the stories are really not that tightly connected at all.

Each of the stories could easily be told in a movie - but I think you'd need a whole two hours for each segment, the only thing that made the book "unfilmable", IMO was the fact that it would be difficult to compress to down to 2 hours. It would have been fine as a mini-series.

Part of what makes the book so good though is the way the author changes the language and style in each segment, matching the 'style' of the era it's supposed to be depicting. That's the kind of thing that doesn't seem like it would translate as simply to a movie.
I went to the movie with my partner. The one who had not read the book understood it just as easily as did the one who had read the book. Both of us found the message hammered home a little too obviously, most notably in Somni's pronouncements.
Well, the book is the same way, down to Sonmi's soliloquy being the most over the top. But in the book, it's just a few pages.
The roll-out of the movie was half-baked - well, quarter-baked. Little advertising, few trailers, and it showed at fewer screens than any movie I can recall with a similar budget and three successful directors (and based on an audacious novel, and stuffed full of delicious visuals). I wonder why the studios did everything but stab the movie in the back?
The "studios", specifically Warner Brothers, didn't make the movie. They just paid for the US distribution rights. They may have just advertised enough to recoup their part of the investment. It seems like this is a movie that people are going to want to own and watch over and over again over the years, like The Matrix or the Lord of the Rings. So they might not be aiming to make back all their money immediately either.
One thing I can't figure out -- what's the connection between 1973 and 2012? All of the episodes have a direct, historical connection except (as far as I can tell) this one.
Okay Spoilers for the book but in the 2012 section the main character was a book editor who'd gotten the Luisa Rey story submitted to him as a manuscript. What's interesting, I thought, was that all the other parts of the story were connected by actual people - but that part of the story is connected through fictional elements: Luisa Rey is fictional to Timothy Cavendish, and Cavendish is fictional to Sonmi. On the other hand the 'past' and 'future' stories were directly linked by mutual characters or 'non-fictional' records (the pacific journal and the orison of Sonmi). I don't know if there are any other links between the future and past stories, other than Cavendish's story.
posted by delmoi at 2:02 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you can get past the Mickey Rooney makeup, this is a pretty great movie.
posted by ColdChef at 2:22 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


All three of the directors were on the Nerdist podcast, very interesting dissection of their motivations, intentions, and the circumstances surrounding funding and making the film. Highly recommend it.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:35 PM on November 24, 2012


I loved the book, and I adored the movie. They both feature the same characters in the same plots, but are totally different experiences. And I love that, too.
posted by xingcat at 3:58 PM on November 24, 2012


I just got back from the theatre:

1) The Main Point: The 3 hours zip away. There's never a dull moment. This is quite an achievement. Few people can do this.

2) You don't need to read the book to get the drift. It might hinder if you tease it too much, so it might be better to see the movie first if you have a choice. For both the movie and the book, the full effect doesn't properly work if there are too many interruptions or distractions. (Well, you know for the book I don't mean to read it in one sitting, but that it's not the kinda book that you read a little bit and put it aside for a week or two and then read a bit more. That book might be something by James Joyce).

3) The make-up is pretty wonky at times, but I'm okay with that. In the future, all of that commonplace genetic modification stuff will make some people look odd at times.
posted by ovvl at 6:05 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh:

4) & it is unfilmable: When I first heard about this project, I thought it was from The Onion.
posted by ovvl at 6:27 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


...the Wachowski's insistence that humanity is beyond gender, beyond race, beyond tribal affiliation...

This is not how I interpreted the movie (or the book) at all. I thought it was very much about humanity's inability to transcend gender, race and tribalism, and the sad, humble and hopeful efforts that we make to try and forge a better future, in full knowledge of our imperfections.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 6:30 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


1. The book was filmed. It's not an unfilmable book, it's an "unfilmable" book.

2. A film named "Cloud Atlas" was made. It's not an unfilmable book, it's an "unfilmable" book.

1 makes sense, 2 is a non-sequitur.
posted by 3FLryan at 7:48 AM on November 25, 2012


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